Tuesday, December 5, 2017

8 thoughtful, useful gifts. All under $25. No cutesie anything.

For stocking stuffers. For anyone you want to remember. For yourself. A little off the beaten track. Most available from Amazon.

Jao hand sanitizer is a favorite of makeup artists. Your hands will be clean and they will smell wonderfully of Lavender, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Geranium, and Sage. About $25

I have used this Bennington tankard mug for decades. Comes in 12 glazes. Looks great, well designed, keeps your tea or coffee hotter longer. Hasn’t chipped, either. $18

Uni Jetstream pens from Japan write the first time every time. No blobs of ink, no skipping. Just perfect.  I use either the .7 or .5. Get 6 pens for $10

A vintage French notebook goes well with the Uni pens. $10

Maruman Japanese notebooks are elegant and the paper is a dream to write on. Here’s one for $7

Rhodia notebooks are great and classic.  Here’s one for $10.

I found this at the Apple Store when I saw a "genius" cleaning an iPad with Whoosh. Gets rid of the grunge and makes your electronic gizmos look brand new. $10

Vignalta sea salt imported from Italy combined with garlic, rosemary and sage. Will make you think you’re dining on a terrace in, oh well, think Positano. :-) You’ll have to watch for it, because when it’s available, it sells out immediately. About $15 the last time I bought it. PS: The reviews on the Amazon page are for another product. I’ve alerted Amazon. Let's see how much clout I have. ;-)

Do you have any suggestions? Any modest, easy-to-get favorites that would make thoughtful gifts?

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Mom's Cranberry Sauce. Quick, Easy, Delicious. A Little Boozey.

My Mom was an RN, a proud New Englander, and an excellent cook. Her cranberry sauce is the best I have ever tasted. It's fast, easy, and delicious! Here's the recipe—

My Mom's Cranberry Sauce

1 package fresh cranberries.
1 small naval orange, rinsed, cut in eighths. (Leave peel on.)
1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar.
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or bourbon.

Add half the cranberries and half the orange pieces to a food processor. Turn on and off until mixture is roughly chopped. Transfer to bowl. Repeat with remaining cranberries and orange pieces.

Add first batch of cranberry-orange mixture back to the food processor. Add sugar plus bourbon or Grand Marnier. Process briefly to mix.

Taste and add more sugar if you wish. Store in fridge.

Disappears at Thanksgiving. Makes great gifts. I also use it as a topping for yogurt and on toast in place of marmalade.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Love And Money: The Women of Park Avenue, fabled but not flawless.

Kindle  |  iBooks  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay  |  Nook


Heiress Deedee Dahlen was beautiful, privileged, an adored wife, a loving mother, but…

Her best friend said—
“When I looked at her I saw money. She looked rich, she sounded rich, she smelled rich. Her money was such an integral part of her that I sometimes thought that without it she might cease to exist. The sad thing is that she thought so, too.”

Her rival said—
“From the day she was born, secrets and scandal surrounded her. She attracted attention like a magnet and, although she said she wanted privacy and always refused requests for interviews, she always smiled for the photographers. Haven’t you noticed that you’ve never seen a bad picture of her?”

Her publicist said—
“People said she was dumb. I think they were dead wrong. After all, she ended up with a husband who worshiped her and more money than even she knew how to spend. That’s not my definition of dumb, but when it all came crashing down, the dream came to an end. She was alone and there was no one to help. ”

Lana Bantry grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and made it to the right of town, but…

Her boss said—
“She wasn’t the smartest person I ever knew, and, although she was extremely glamorous, she certainly wasn’t beautiful. What made her special was her determination. She was the most determined person I ever met—determined to be successful, determined to be treated fairly, determined to be noticed. I always thought there was something sad about her.”

Her ex-husband said—
“She was a money-hungry bitch and she deserved everything that happened to her.”

Her lover said—
“She thought like a man and fucked like an angel. She was the ideal woman. I loved her but I double-crossed her. Don’t ask me why because I don’t really know. Maybe she was just too much for me.”

DeeDee Dahlen and Lana Bantry—
They shared a father—but not an inheritance.
They were sisters—and strangers.
Two women in love with the same man.

Originally published in hard cover by Random House.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Process Goals: 6 Ways Slowing Down and Thinking Small Will Help You Write Your Book

Climbers ascending Mount Everest.

Writing a book can feel like climbing Mount Everest. Process goals will cut that mountain down to size.

Psychologists differentiate between outcome goals (write a book) and process goals (the steps it will take to write a book). The outcome goal focuses on the big picture and the end result—a diamond-studded World Series ring, an Emmy, the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby.

An outcome goal (Bestseller! Glowing five-star reviews!) is one over which you have no control. No wonder you feel overwhelmed and intimidated before you even begin.

The big picture is, well, big. You can’t control it and it’s hard to define. Do you want a bestseller? NY Times or USA Today or both? A nomination for a literary prize? Pulitzer? National Book Award? A book your Mom/third grade teacher/college professor will be proud of? A book that will get revenge on the guy/gal who dumped you and prove to the world that they were wrong and you were right?

Even if you can pin down what you want from the book, you still have to write it.

OMG, a book? 60,000-100,000 brilliant, well-chosen words that actually make sense?

Where do I begin? Even if you’re an ace outliner and have nailed the plot, where do you begin? For a clue, see Anne’s post on first chapters and mine on first chapter blues.
Who are the characters? Good guys and bad gals. Or vice versa? And don’t forget about character arcs. Decisions, decisions.
What about the voice? You mean writers need to have a voice? What’s that and how do you get one?
What’s the time frame? The Middle Ages? Today? Tomorrow? The day after?
What’s the setting? A secret galaxy? Paris in the 1920s? Wall Street in the 1990’s? A rice paddy in Indonesia? A high rise in San Francisco? A favela in Rio?

The possibilities are limitless.

The choices almost infinite.

No wonder we feel paralyzed.

We can’t decide. Don’t know where to begin. In fact, just contemplating the whole idea of writing-a-book gives me a headache and I’ve written lots of them.

Like Scarlett, I’ll think about writing-a-book tomorrow.

Meanwhile, excuse me while I lie down and take a nap.

Think Big–and Fail.

Remember “Too Big To Fail?” They were talking about banks back then but, when it comes to writing-a-book, “too big” is almost a guarantee of failure.

Remember our big picture: bestseller, literary prize, a smile from Mom, a moment of delicious revenge? Problem is, you can’t control readers, buyers, literary critics, Mom (no kidding!), or the ex who done you wrong. No one can.

Bestseller, literary prize, a smile from Mom, a moment of delicious revenge are outcome goals and for someone thinking about writing-a-book they’re Bad News.

Did Mark Zukerberg create the early, collegiate version of FaceBook in his dorm room and think he would one day be one of the richest men in the world? I doubt it. I suspect he was eating chips and thinking about the next line of code.

Ditto Henry Ford. Did he imagine he was going to revolutionize transportation, set the foundation for highway systems around the world, create the assembly line and the global demand for fossil fuels when he put the first Model A on the road? Nope. Don’t think so.

And what about Warren Buffett? What did he have in mind? Become the investment guru whose every pronouncement was taken as gospel? Doubt it. He was most likely thinking about how to make a few bucks in the stock market.

And Steve Jobs? What did he have in mind? Changing the world? Well, come to think of it, knowing what we know about Steve, he probably did think he was going to change the world. 

Why Books Don’t Get Finished.

Writing-a-book is probably one of the main culprits that results in books that get started but never finished. They’re the unfinished books languishing on dusty hard drives, the books that get talked about in bars and writers’ groups but never written must less finished, the big dreams that fizzle into disappointment and dashed dreams.

Still, books do get written and they do get published. What’s the secret? What divides writers from wannabes?

The key is thinking small or, as psychologists would say, setting process goals.

Process Goals are the Steps you Take to Get Where you Want to Go.

Whether you’re a tennis player trying to win Wimbledon, an architect designing a house, or a writer aiming to write (or finish) a book, the concept of process goals will cut what seems an overwhelming task down to size.

The tennis player will focus on the cross court volley at hand, not the trophy at the end. The architect will focus on the living room window, not the house. The writer will concentrate on the chapter not the book, the paragraph not the chapter, the sentence not the paragraph.

1. Process goals are bite-sized and achievable.

A well-chosen process goal will keep you from feeling frustrated and falling into a self-sabotaging downward spiral of self-criticism. For example, your process goal might be to write 500 words a day every day.
Not so few words you feel you’re investing time and energy to accomplish nothing. Not so many that you flirt with failure from the beginning, feel discouraged and frustrated and give up almost before you start.

2. Process goals protect you from perfectionism.

Your goal is to write 500 words, not 500 “perfect” words. It doesn’t matter if those 500 daily words are “good” or “bad” because—
The writer is the last to know (ask me how I know!)
Editing will be your next step (or process goal.)

3. Process goals keep your motivation in high gear.

You know from experience that you can write 500 words before you leave for work or when you get home or after the kids are in bed. Hitting that target every day will ensure that you don’t get frustrated and paralyzed. Instead, slow but sure, you will feel an on-going sense of accomplishment which fuels your motivation.

4. Process goals will force you to focus on today’s 500 words.

Not the 60,000-100,000 words that seem Everest sized and impossible. Because they are. Impossible. Can’t climb a mountain in a day. Even billionaires (male or female) put on their pants one leg at a time. A writer can write only one word at a time. Including Tolstoy or J.D. Salinger or any other famous writer you can think of.

5. Process goals force you to concentrate on performing the task at hand.

As you write your daily 500 words, you are concentrating on a sentence or a paragraph or a scene. Or even le mot juste. You are not spinning your wheels thinking about writing-a-book and all the uncontrollable glories (or setbacks) that will follow.

6. Process goals will slow you down and calm you.

The undefined, outcome goal of writing-a-book can and will cause intense anxiety. Focusing on a scene, a paragraph, a sentence will quell stress. The consequence is that you will avoid the nasty wingmen of stress: writer’s block and the blank mind face to face with a blank screen.

Get from here to there, from a nifty idea to a book, with the help of process goals!

Originally published at Anne R. Allen's excellent blog. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


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 The idea for A Kiss At Kihali came from reading articles about the fact that poaching was and is threatening to make rhinos and elephants extinct.

Innocent animals are slaughtered with poison and machine guns. Not only are the adult animals killed, but their babies are left orphaned and defenseless, prey for predators. A Kiss At Kihali, set in an African animal orphanage, is about how a dedicated expert in animal communication and a devoted vet save one baby orphan from sure death—and, in the process, heal their own wounds and find a second chance at love.

They rescue endangered animals, but can they rescue each other?

Renny Kudrow, Director of the Kihali animal orphanage in Kenya, is a brilliant scientist who can interpret animal communication. But human communication?

Not so much, thinks Starlite Higgins, the orphanage's wildlife vet he has hired over the objection of others who think a woman is not up to the job. Renny is prickly, remote, critical, and Starlite, anxious to please and accustomed to success, is unable to win his approval.

When Renny and Starlite must work together to rescue a badly injured baby rhino from poachers, they must face the secrets they both hide--and the attraction they can no longer deny.

Meet the brave and lovable baby rhino, Zuri (the word means “beautiful” in Swahili), the wise elephants, Doris and Maisie, and Boozie, a sprightly and mischievous young goat. Get to know string bean-skinny Jomo and strong, athletic Muthengi, the Kenyan wildlife experts, Ian Stewart-Montgomery, the witty, handsome half-Kenyan, half-English photo safari guide, and all the other human and animal friends who find a home at Kihali.

A KISS AT KIHALI will appeal to readers who love animals, adventure and stories about second chances.

A KISS AT KIHALI, written to bring attention to the poaching crisis that is endangering the future existence of African wildlife, is suitable for a wide range of readers and contains no sex or cursing.

Ruth invites you to join her newsletter.


Friday, June 30, 2017

My Mom's quick, easy, utterly delicious recipe for old-fashioned blueberry cobbler

Summer is still here. So are blueberries—and Blueberry Cobbler!

My Mom was a proud New Englander and an excellent cook. Her recipe for blueberry cobbler is quick, easy and delicious, perfect to share with friends, family or to eat standing up in the kitchen as it comes fresh from the oven!

1 quart blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Place in buttered oven-proof casserole.

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons butter

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter until crumbly. Moisten with 1/2 cup milk. Spread over berry mixture and bake in 400 oven for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned.

Et voilà!

Enjoy with or without ice cream.
Alone or with someone you love.
Morning, noon or night. :-)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Writing Rules (Usually) Don’t Work, But Writing Guidelines Do

 Writing guidelines can help us climb that “book mountain” 
A breath-taking article about a Polish team of mountaineers planning to climb K2 in the winter—a risky-to-the-max feat that has never been accomplished—reminded me that every book is K2, a mountain that has never been climbed. Like expert climbers, writers make progress step by step, or, to be precise, word by word.

Writing guidelines for climbing Book Mountain

We start at base camp, familiarize ourselves with the terrain and altitude, thread our way through ice falls and high mountain passes, we set our own ropes and carry our own gear. We drag ourselves through the middle, crawl to the summit, enjoy the view from the top, then do our best to survive the perilous descent (aka write the ending).
Struggling and suffering, we endure setbacks and doubts, make mistakes and mis-steps. We depend on our equipment and our team, but, in the end, we (usually) climb our mountains alone. The good news is that (usually) climbing the book mountain won’t kill us (although sometimes it feels that way) and we will live to climb again. 😉
Between us, Anne and I have been climbing book mountains for decades. We've written under pen names and our own names. We’ve had successes and failures and, along the way, we have made every mistake (and then some).
We are too old (and too experienced) to think that rules, which tend to be rigid, work when it comes to something as risky and unpredictable as writing a book (or climbing a mountain).
Much as we are wary of rules, especially stupid rules, we have learned (the hard way) that certain general writing guidelines apply. Rules (with a few important exceptions) are rigid and come with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Guidelines, however, have the advantage of being flexible and customizable.
Here are our own thoughts and those of our favorite gurus and bloggers on guidelines that work:

Start with the first step. Preparing for the ascent.

The writer’s consciousness is a library of memories, observations, emotions, all residing in our subconscious waiting for us to use.
  • An idea, a character, a theme, that won’t let go.
  • It can be sad, funny, tragic, epic, super brilliant or dumber-than-dumb, but it works its way into our mind and sticks like a burr.
  • It can be triggered by an overheard snatch of dialogue on the street, in a restaurant, at the supermarket.
  • Perhaps a phrase in the newspaper, in a book, in a meeting at work will be the trigger.
  • Or a random memory that springs up unexpectedly while we’re driving, folding laundry, listening to music, exercising, chatting with a friend, fighting with a roommate.
The writer’s job is to take the necessary steps turn this roiling stew into a story that will engage readers. From brainstorming to writing the first sentence and polishing the final draft, there are techniques and guidelines that will help on the way.

Turning a vague idea into a usable story idea.

Starting with a fuzzy notion but no clue where to go from there?

Pants? Plot? Or something in between?

One size does not fit all.
  • Our guest blogger, top freelance editor M. J. Bush contributed an invaluable post on the subject: 25 must-read tips on plotting from top authors and editors.
  • Then there is Libby Hawker’s popular guide to plotting, Take Off Your Pants.
  • In Writing Into The Dark, prolific author and USAT bestseller Dean Wesley Smith guides you through the joy of writing a book without an outline and explains the value of cycling.
  • Chuck Wendig zeroes in plotting and prepping with index cards, the zero draft, beat sheets and tentpole moments.
  • NYT and USAT bestseller, Russell Blake, uses a spreadsheet to plot his action/adventure/mystery thrillers and explains why he doesn’t for his NA stories.
  • From story discovery to knowing your characters, author and writing coach, Jennifer Blanchard explores the value of pantsing.

Begin at the beginning. Or not.

“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” said Stephen King. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” Plus a list of 50 best first sentences to inspire you.

That &$%# first draft.

Hemingway said, “All first drafts are shit.” However, you can’t fix, revise, rewrite, edit something that doesn’t exist.
Bottom line: no first draft, no book.
Hold your nose and type: getting the first draft done. Speed kills, or does it?
More thoughts on the maze of the first draft.
“I don’t fiddle or edit or change while I’m going through that first draft,” says Nora Roberts. She explains her process, says character is everything, and writes three or four drafts.

Editors, editing, revising.

From Trimalchio to The Great Gatsby. How to choose a title.

Sometimes the perfect title for your book is there from the beginning. Sometimes you have to name the baby. Here’s help:

Rules that DO work.

Mistakes, Misery and Surviving The Enemy:

This post was originally published at Anne R. Allen's indispensable blog on  May 28th, 2017. It was Anne who chose the marvellous goat that illustrates my point!  —Ruth

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rejection and Failure: Don't Quit. Do Something Else Instead. Here Are A Few Ideas.

This is a reprint of my post for @AnneRAllen on April 30.

Rejection and Failure: Don't Quit. Do Something Else Instead. Here Are A Few Ideas.

Rejection and failure make you think of quitting? Be like Thomas Edison instead.

by Ruth Harris

Rejection can make us want to cry and/or break things but rejection is almost never personal and often has nothing to do with your book, either. The sting of rejection can be bullied into submission with a can-do, eff-you spirit or maybe chocolate or a few glasses of wine—sometimes consumed together.
Rejection is temporary, a passing storm that helps writers develop the necessary thick skin and confident attitude, but it’s a sense of failure—often intertwined with fear—that can make us want to give up and quit.

Frazzled, Frustrated, and Fed up. (Notice all the f-words in this post?)

I’ve been hearing a lot of negativity recently from writers who want to give up. They question their talent—and their sanity. They’ve tried everything—free books and promos and newsletter and ads and the latest, hottest genre—and “nothing” works. When they look around they see what looks like the ashes of the ebook boom: declining sales, unpredictable algo changes, and the indie stars from a few years ago who have left the scene.
The odds-against in TradPub are equally daunting. Writers hoping for an agent know the ego-mangling effects of being dissed and ignored, their manuscripts disappeared and their emails unanswered.
As a long-time editor, publisher and writer, my experience has been that we (and our books) fail much more than we succeed. Knopf editor Robert Gottlieb in his book Avid Reader: A Life, talks about the successes and the famous writers but about the failures—the books remaindered, languishing in warehouses, the authors fallen into obscurity—not so much. Understandably, because, after all, who wants to read about (or write about) flops, failures and the forgotten? Doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, though.
I’ve experienced failure from both sides of the desk and want to take a deep dive into the subject since set-backs are an inescapable part of the business we’re in. To start with a bit of perspective: It’s not just us. Most businesses fail. Period.
I live in New York where new restaurants open every week and even more close. Ditto clothing boutiques, hair salons, and dog groomers. Malls across the country sit empty and iconic retailers like Sears and Kmart, RadioShack and J.C. Penney are shutting stores.
With that larger perspective, use your creative abilities to consider ways to reframe failure before you act on your impulse to give up.

Failure as Foundation.

In her June 2008 speech at Harvard graduation J.K. Rowling, currently the richest writer in the world, explored “the benefits of failure.” She described her own failures—she was divorced, jobless, a single parent and as poor as one could be without being homeless—and said that “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Struggling to meet ends and so depressed she considered suicide, she reached out for help and returned to Harry Potter, an idea she had begun years earlier but abandoned. For J.K. Rowling, failure was not final but the beginning of a new ending.
Should you, like J.K. Rowling, return to an old idea or an abandoned draft? Has the time come to review and reconsider?
Award-winning writer Holly Lisle offers a detailed guide to revising a book.
Maybe the book that fizzled needs the sizzle of a new idea or a new shot of energy. Gloria Kopp, a web content writer, shares seven ways for writers to generate new ideas and includes a clickable list of online writing and idea generating tools and resources.

Failure as Part of the Job.

Olympic figure skaters miss their jumps, world-class gymnasts don’t always stick the landing and medal-winning divers splash the entry. Famous golfers miss their putts, Roger Federer loses sometimes, and even Ted Williams struck out.
Failure is part of their career and even those at the top continue to practice their serve, their swing, their fastball and curve. They spend time in the batting cage, in the rink, on the apparatus. They reach out for help and seek mentors and coaches, learn from their competitors, and from those who came before them.
Ballerinas take class or do barre everyday. Singers practice their scales and I recall reading that, as a young singer wanting to improve, Frank Sinatra paid  a retired opera singer to teach him a series of vocal exercises which he added to and practiced throughout his life.
For a writer, editing, revising and rewriting are invaluable forms of practice. Editors, beta readers, and crit groups can take the place of tennis coaches and batting gurus. The book that flopped or was never finished (Harry Potter anyone?) can get a second or third chance because dialoguegrammardescriptionsinfo dumps, and go-nowhere scenes can all be reworked and improved.

Course Correction or Radical Reinvention?

When your career is stalled and “nothing” is working for you, you have the advantage of being invisible. Because no one is paying attention to you, you can take big risks. A pen name can be liberating as you venture out to try something new and different.


If you’ve been on your own, what about collaborating with another writer or even several writers?

Writing for the Market

Lots of controversy about “writing to market,” but if you feel you are getting nowhere, why not consider it? As a young editor, I started out writing magazine articles but wanted to try writing something longer. A book!
At the time, gothic romance was a hot genre. I read a handful of top-selling gothics, wrote an outline and a few chapters to prove to an editor (and myself) that I could do it. Eventually I wrote several gothics and, in doing so, began to learn how to write a book.
I did not find writing to market soul sucking. Perhaps because I viewed writing to market as a starting point, found it educational, and liked getting paid. If you feel stuck and decide to try writing to market, why not think of it as a stepping stone?

A few how-to’s to get you started:

•How to write your first romance novel.
•Chuck Wendig lists 25 things to know about writing horror.
•Susan Spann shares 25 tips for writing a mystery.
•Bestseller David Morrell’s 5 rules for writing a thriller.
•Six secrets to writing suspense.
•How to write action-adventure.

Failure—or fear of failure?

Are we talking failure? Or the fear of it?
Is fear of failure holding you back? Twenty-five noted women from Michelle Obama to Dolly Parton discuss the fear that might have paralyzed them and the steps they took to overcome it.
What if you’ve actually failed? Author Ray Williams talks about coping with failure from a psychological point of view.
Techniques for dealing with failure and moving on.

The book that failed. Or did it?

  • That new book you were sure was going be your break-through sank without a trace.
  • Those newsletters “everyone” said was a sure fire route to fans and sales landed in spam folders.
  • The promo that worked so well last time fizzled this time.
  • Those widely hyped Amazon and Facebook ads turned out to be expensive and time consuming to set up and maintain. They made a dent in your wallet but not your sales graph.
Maybe that book is languishing because it needs the right hook. Paula Balzer at Writer’s Digest goes into detail about how to write the hook that hooks.
How about a better blurb?
Or maybe no one’s buying your book because no one can find it. Here’s how to choose categories and keywords that can shelve your book where people who might like it can actually find it.
What if the promo that was great for “everyone,” did zilch for you? Bestselling author Cara Bristol gives 8 reasons why.

Before I Go (and you give up), Heed these Two “Failures.”

“Failure is success in progress.” —Albert Einstein
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” —Thomas Alva Edison